Navy Blue Knickers and Things That Go Bump in the Night – 1930’s memories as told by a 8 year old who is now 89
“I dedicate this book to my grandchildren.”
“I write this book for Lucy on her 8th birthday.”
“Thank you to Jane and Harry for their encouragement and to William for his help; and Lisa my young reader.”
Chapter 1 – Having My Picture Taken
am Connie Staveley, I live in a nice village called Burton Fleming. I am seven and three quarters years old. I have just done quarters at school so I know thats right.
I am taller than most of the other girls in my class, and I have long fair hair. I know a lot of things that happened when I was only two or three years old. My Mother says that I cannot possibly remember, but I truly can.
When I was two, or maybe three I went to a proper place to have my picture taken. It was a bit like a house, but when we opened the door, a bell started to ring. It kept bumping into the back of the door and going ding ding ding, until my aunt Ada closed the door. My aunt Ada always came with us when we did important things, like dentists and doctors and things.
The man seemed to know we were coming. I think my aunt Ada had been in to see him before. I didn’t like the man very much, because he lifted me up on to a table, and he gave me a big grey ‘elifent’ to hold. It was really heavy, and the table was all slippy. I kept nearly sliding off, with that silly ‘elifent’ in my arms.
It was too heavy to hold and it made me cry. I cried a lot and the man got cross. He went to hide under a big black table cloth. My mother and auntie had to go and sit on a sofa. It was a long way away. Then the man peeped out and said, “Say cheese,” I nearly cried again. I don’t like cheese, well I do just a little bit now, because I am a big girl.
I don’t know why I had to say cheese, we had fish and chips at my aunt Ada’s before we went to see the horrible man.There was a big light went ‘flash’ just like when it thunders, then the man popped out from under the table cloth, and said. “That’s it then, I will send the photos in the post.” It was not a very nice day to remember, but I did have my Sunday dress on and my best boots, and it was only Saturday.
Chapter 2 – A Terrible Thing Happened
hen I was four, we had a very terrible thing happen. It started off very exciting. It was called a feast day, and all the men went to a feast. My Grandad collected all the money to pay for the beer and things, and the man at the Star Inn let them have the feast in a room above the stables.
All us children and mums and Grannies and aunties and some of the men went to *Southwells Field. We did all sorts of things, like egg and spoon races and games. I was only little when this terrible thing happened so I was in the baby race.
Our house was filled with aunts and uncles and cousins. I was too big for my cot so my cousins Cicely and Zilla slept in it. I was in between my mother and aunt Ada, so I didn’t fallout. All the beds were full and there was even beds on the floor in every room.
The bedroom window gave a great big crackling noise and broke just like ice does when you walk on it. We all jumped out of bed, well my mother lifted me out. I was still a bit asleep.
Everybody crowded into the living room. They were all talking at the same time and made such a noise, and I wanted to go to sleep again. Everybody wondered whathad happened. Grannie said we all had to go back to bed and stop causing such a commotion.
She said it would be that silly lad that lives up the lane, “He will have bumped into our front steps with his lorry, I’ll sort it out in the morning”.
Grannie always sorted everything out…
The next morning we heard that all the houses had been shaking at the same time, and Boynton’s lorry couldn’t have bumped into them all at the same time. The Sunday papers said it was an ‘Earthquake’. Something like thunder and lightning but worse.
Chapter 3- A Wonderful Thing
remember a wonderful thing, from when I was five and a half years old. We all ran out of school and Mrs Ashton told us all to look up into the sky. We saw this really big thing floating past. It was bigger than the chara* that takes us to the seaside. It was on its wayback from america. There was a German inside but we couldn’t see him.
Mrs Ashton said he was a friendly German not a bad one.
Chapter 4 – My New Sun Hat
he next summer was very very hot. My uncle Joe told me it was better than he had ever known, and he was a big man he was 28 years old. We had our summer dresses on and we had to wear sun hats everytime we went out.
Mrs Ashton was my teacher and she was my mother’s friend as well. She brought me a lovely sun hat. Her little girl was too big for it. It had ribbon round and little tiny tiny daisies on. We all got our legs brown and my Grannie said I looked the picture of health.
Chapter 5 – May Queen Day
am seven and three quarters now. I will tell you about another picture that I had taken. I will tell you about that later.
When we have a cold we use a hankie. It is a little square of cotton and it is nice and soft.We have a nicer one for best for Sundays. It is very soft, and it is made from fine lawn, not grass lawn sillies, a kind of cotton, but thin. Some of my hankies have C for Connie in the corner and some have flowers stitched on. My auntie Bessie does them for me. I have hundreds in my hankie drawer.
If I don’t have a pocket in my frock, I never know where to put my hankie. Sometimes I put it up my sleeve, but it falls out. I once felt ‘awful’ because of where I put my hankie. I will tell you about it.
It was last year, 1934. Every May time we have a maypole in the school yard. It is as tall as the school, nearly.
Some of the fathers help to put it in a hole in the middle of the school yard.
Then they hang all coloured ribbons from the top, and we all take a ribbon and dance round it.We wind in and out until we make a pattern with the ribbons. sometimes it is plaited, and sometimes like a cobweb. I can plait my hair now, all by myself, but not very well.
Even the boys had to dance, they didn’t like it very much.There was a May Queen as well, even when my mother was a little girl in the olden days there was. All the children are given a piece of paper to write the name of a girl they like best. It has to be a girl from the big girls class. The girl with the most votes is the May Queen.
A bit like when we have an election to get a new Prime Minister or Queen. This year I was the May Queen’s attendant. We vote in the little classes as well for attendants. I was attendant last year as well; the time I felt awful, about where I put my hankie.
I had a pretty yellow taffeta dress, all sticky out like a ballerina. I had a head-dress made with little bunches of buttercups. It was like a golden crown. My hair was all hanging down in ringlets.
The bedtime before May Day, my mother twisted my hair all round long strips of rag. It hurt when I was going to sleep. My Gran said, “Ah well prides painful mi lass.” I think she meant, if you want to look pretty it has to hurt you first. I had to sleep with the rags in all night, but I didn’t cry or anything.
On May Day when we took the rags out, my hair had gone shorter. I did cry then, but Gran said it was because it was all twisted in corkscrews, and it would be long again tomorrow. Isn’t that funny!
I looked ever so pretty. Well, my auntie Bessie said I did anyway.
The AWFUL thing that happened was a man came to take photos.
It hung on the school room wall with last year’s May Day pictures, and my sticky out dress was all tucked in my knicker leg. Well I had nowhere to put my hankie, so I tucked it in my knickers. I always feel AWFUL everytime I look at the picture. Well, everybody knows, I had my hankie up my knicker leg don’t they.Oh my gosh I feel AWFUL.
Chapter 6 – Navy Blue Knickers
fter the Awful thing happened my aunt Ada bought me some knickers with a pocket in. White ones for Sunday and navy blue for school days. I showed them to everyone at school. Not the big boys though, they always laugh at us infants. I showed Geof Wells and Maurice Pickering cos they’r our friends. Geof Wells said I could keep my money in it. So if I don’t spend my Saturday penny I put it in my pocket to keep it safe. I am always doing handstands and cartwheels and things. I can’t do them properly like Ellen Brambles. Sometimes my penny falls out and hits me on the nose.Chapter 7 – The Jubilee
his year was the Silver Jubilee. It was in May after May Day. Jubilee means 25 years since King George V was made our king. His wife is called Queen Mary. Everyone loves them both.
My uncle Joe says they are kind, and bother about the working man. I think they bother about the women and children as well, if they are kind, but uncle Joe doesn’t know about that.
The King George V is the first King to talk to people on the wireless. V means 5 I think.
On Christmas Day in 1932 he said, “This is a message to all my people throughout the Empire.” I was only six years old so i can’t remember what the message was, but I think he said, he loved us all.
We just got our wireless, it had an accumulator that made it go, and uncle Joe took it to the shop every week to have it charged.
That means put more stuff in it. It was called a wet battery. We all sat around the wirelsess to listen to the King. He is on the wireless every Christmas now, after we have had our Christmas pudding. I haven’t to talk for ages until he finishes his message.
On Jubilee day nobody went to work, we didn’t go to school. the King said we could have a day off. In London where the King has his palace, all the people had a picnic in the street.
They put tables up and had jelly and custard I think. It was called a street party. The dads put up ribbons and flags all over the fences.
The King liked it all, when he rode down the street with the Queen in a golden coach. We didn’t have a picnic in our street, but I had a really nice day.
At the top of our lane there is a tiny little house and my friend Mrs Bott and Aud Tommy Bott. My mother says their real name is Burt, but Gran talks proper North Button. That’s what Burton Fleming was called in the old days.
My mother won’t let me talk North Button way. I wish I could because I like the way my Gran talks.
Anyway! I sometimes go up the lane and Mrs Bott comes out to play with me.
She is a round lady like a cuddly ball.
She sometimes comes into the lane and we both skip.
Mr Bott holds the rope when he is at home. Mrs Bott is a very good skipper. She can even do salt and pepper. That means skipping faster and faster. When she skips she wobbles all over. when I giggle she says, “See if you can do better mi lass,” and I can’t. I always trip over the rope when it goes fast.
Mrs Bott has a really, really big fat thumb on one hand. She told me that when she was a young woman she worked in the cotton mill. It was at Bradford. That must be near London, cos its a very long way away. Her thumb grew big with pressing on the machine all the time. She used to wriggle her fat thumb at me to make me laugh. Sometimes she drew a little face on her nail. When it wriggled it looked like a little fat man.
Mr Bott is always in the fields working. He wears corduroy trousers that whistle when he walks, uncle Joe calls them his whistlers.
Mr Bott ties a piece of *Massey Harris band round his trousers just under the knees.
He says it is to stop mice running up when he is harvesting.
He has a great big coat. He wears it when he goes out after tea, it is very old and scruffy, but it is the most wonderful coat I ever seen.
Mr Bott calls it his magic coat. He shows me into his pocket, and it looks empty, then he puts his hand right down to the bottom of his coat and pulls out a rabbit. He has another pocket at the other side. When he opens his coat you can see two enormous pockets that touch the floor, and he finds a pheasant in there or maybe a partridge.
Mrs Bott says, “Them birds will do us a good dinner or two.”
Gran says Mr Bott is a poacher, and he’ll be getting wrong one of these days.
Mr Bott is round as well.
There is another round one in their family. They have the biggest fattest cat that I have ever seen. It is called Tiger. He has his own chair, and a big soft cushion on it.
When Tiger sits in his own chair he fills it all up, but he lets me squeeze in besides him. His purr is so loud, it sounds like an engine going inside him.He purrs like mad when I sit with him and hold his big paw in my hand. I went up the lane to Mrs Botts on Jubilee day.
We all, that’s Mrs Bott, Mr Bott and Tiger Bott, we all sat on stools round the wireless and heard the King’s people all cheering as he rode past.
We had a little glass of tonic wine and a piece of coconut cake with icing on. Mrs Bott went to the drawer in her sideboard and took out a red, white and blue box, with red, white and blue ribbon round it, all tied in a funny bow. she said, “Noo then bairn ev ya ivver seen owt lake this affoor?” and she untied the ribbon and lifted off the lid. Inside the box was three pieces of soap and one was red and one was white and one was blue. I said that I had never seen anything like it before. Mrs Bott said, “You can have one to take home so you can remember Jubilee day for many a day”.
Her little fat fingers hovered over the soap as she wondered which one to give. The pinky one was pretty, but it was supposed to be red. The white one was just like Grannie has in the front bedroom in case the doctor comes and wants to wash his hands. Mrs Bott said the blue was a very special soap, “It is very hard to make blue things because dyes are made from plant’s leaves and roots and you don’t see many blue leaves do you?” She took the blue soap out of the box and gave it to me wrapped in a silk hankie, “A special soap for a special lass”. Although the blue was not properly blue, it was like a bird’s egg colour. I ran straight home to show it to my mother. I still have it in my hankie drawer. I shall keep it for ever and ever.
When my uncle Joe came home for his tea, he brought me a special Jubilee present. It was a real silk hankie, with a Union Jack on it. I wrapped my soap in it and I will keep it for ever and ever and ever.
Chapter 8 – Betsy
had a lovely Grandad. He was very tall. Mrs Bott said he was a real gentleman. He was a very gentle man. He used to tie a cushion on to the bar of his bike with a long red scarf and lift me up onto it when he went to look at his sheep. Sometimes he took me to see his brother in Flixton.
I liked going with my Grandad but it was a bit scary when he went over a pothole in the road. It made the cushion wobble and sometimes it started to swing round under the bar.
I nearly went with it, but my Grandad always help on very tight to my coat.
When my Grandad went for a walk to meet his *cronies; that’s what Gran called them, I used to put my arm round his long legs. I couldn’t reach his hand very well. His ‘cronies’ were Mr Newlove and some more Grandads. They all meet at the Post Office corner. There is a square at the end of Milsons Lane.
Some of the ‘cronies’ squat down and play a game. They called it shuv a’penny*. Shuv means push and they had to shuv the other man’s a’penny off the board. The board was a patch they marked out with a stick on the ground.
Mr Newlove sometimes brings his little girl with him. Ruth is her name and she is one of my best friends.
I think the ‘cronies’ are all best freinds. They tell each other funny things and they all laugh at the same time.
Me and Ruth used to play with our dolls until it was time for tea. Our dolls are both BIG rag dolls, and we both have very ‘little’ doll’s prams. Our dollies just fit in if we sit them up.
My doll is made with cloth and it has a black face and black curly hair. Gran says it is astrkn*. Her eyes are stitches and mouth is as well. Blue for her eyes and red for her lips. Her nose is a stitch as well.
I am sure she can see me. She often smiles when no one is there. I talk to her a lot. She doesn’t answer, but I know she is listening. I tell eh rall my secrets, and she never ever tells anyone becasue she can’t talk at all. She hasn’t got a tongue you see. I love my doll a lot, her name is Betsy.
When Bessie was a little girl, Betsy was her doll. Now Bessie is grown up. Betsy is mine, but I promise to always look after her properly. Bessie is a lady now, 17 years old.
Ruth lives across the pond. Her Grannie and Grandad live with her just like mine.
They have a lovely garden, like a secret garden. There is small hedges all round patches of flowers. The hedges have tiny leaves and only come as high as your knees. It is called box hedging. The little hedge makes a box for the flowers to grow in.
Chapter 8 – Great Aunt Mary
hen I was nearly five my Grandad was very poorly. I went to stay with aunt Mary at Hunmanby. It was my great aunt Mary really. She was my Gran’s sister, not a little girl sister, you can have big lady girl sisters as well.
Aunt Mary is a big lady. She doesn’t talk North Button like Grannie does, she is a bit posh. Her house is a lot smaller than ours. It is all cosy and warm.
She has *antimassas on the settee and chairs, and there is a big aspidistra on a stand in the corner.
Everything is pretty and shining bright. There is a polished clock that hangs on the wall.
It has a very loud tick. When aunt Mary goes into the back garden I go as well.
If I stay in the house I get frightened of the TICK, TOCK, TICK, TOCK.
Aunt Mary is a seamstress, she sews lovely dresses with all satin bows and lace on. The real LADIES come and try them on and give her a lot of money for making them.
When they come aunt Mary talks all posh. Mum says she is refined but Gran says, “She puts it on to be all fancy.”
I love to stay with aunt Mary. She says if I don’t behave myself she will throw me up into one of those little white egg cup things at the top of the telephone post. There is just one outside her cottage. But I am not scared really, she is only pretending I know.
I heard her tell my Gran I was a grand little lass and ‘does as she is bid’.
When it is a sunny day she will say, “Come on bairn, we will go and see one of my ladies”.
When we go to the big house a lady in a cap and apron and a black dress comes to the door, and takes us to the lady’s room. Then she comes back with a shiny tea pot on a tray and china cups and saucers.
There is a lacy cloth on a little table and small buns to eat. The cups are very thin. Aunt Mary said when you hold them to the light, if you can see through them, they are real china.
Don’t hold them up with the tea still in, like I did, or you will spill it, like I did. Aunt Mary wasn’t cross she said I was a good little lass for not crying at the lady’s house.
I stayed at Mary’s for a long time.
When I went back home, Grandad wasn’t there any more. My Grannie said he had gone to heaven, he wouldn’t be hurting anymore.
Jesus is looking after him. I think it would be better if my mum and Gran looked after him still, and he could take me for rides on his bike again. I cry when I go to bed because I can’t see Grandad anymore.
Bessie comes and sits on my bed and tells me stories to make me stop crying. I don’t call her auntie Bessie she is like my big sister, she is only ten years older than I am. Bessie is my mother’s younger sister.
She makes new clothes for Betsy sometimes.
Chapter 10 – The Kid Catcher
know about Jesus, cos I go to Sunday School. It is different to weekday school, you don’t have desks with lids and pencils and things. Mr Story and Mr Southwell tells us stories about god and we sing a lot.
Our Sunday School is called *Primitive Methodists. Primitive means Mr Southwell doesn’t like pictures and fancy crosses on the walls. He likes simple crosses and things, so he says.
Ruth goes to Sunday School as well and afterwards a few of us best freinds go for a walk up Back Lane.
We sometimes go back down Mr Southwell’s garden. We get the gate open very quietly, and creep down the path, past cabbages and rhubarb.
We sometimes have to hide under the rhubarb leaves when we hear Mr Southwell come out of his back door. It is a very long garden, so he doesn’t often see us.
I think he hears us cos he stands ever so still, and he looks up the garden. One day he started to walk across the lawn, then, he went back into the house.
The rhubarb leaves are like big umbrellas, they are taller than us. If we find a young stalk we pull it out and eat it. It is quite sour, but we pretend we are on an island and have had no food for a year.
Mr Southwell has a little girl the same age as me. She is my Sunday froend. her name is Nan, it’s Nannette really, but I am her best freind, so I can call her Nan*.
Everybody calls me Connie but my real name is Olga Marie.
In Burton Fleming when tiny things are cute the old people say, “What a conny little thing.” Mt Grannie says I was cute when I was newly born. Auntie Bessie says I still am. My mother’s name is Mary, but she was called Connie. A week or two after I was born they called her Mary again.
When I went to stay with my auntie Mary I had just started school. There is a man called the Kid Catcher. He isn’t at school all the time, he only comes if any of the children don’t go to school.
He goes off on his bike and he finds out why they aren’t at school. When he went to our house they told him I was in Hunmanby because my Grandad was very poorly.
The Kid Catcher went to my aunt Mary’s and asked if she knew where Olga Marie is and aunt Mary said, “I have never heard of such a name in my life.”
The Kid Catcher thought I had been kidnapped or murdered. There was a lot of people looking all over for me.
When I went back to school Mr Dukes laughed, Mr Dukes is the head master and teaches the big class. He is a friend of our house. He said, “Don’t worry, nothing will come of it.” Connie isn’t even five yet, so she won’t be put in prison because she hasn’t been to school.
Chapter 11 – What Shall I do? – or, The Tiny Gold Pin
used to like to help my Grannie tidy out her little drawers when I was a baby, before I started school. One day when I was older it was raining and I couldn’t go out to play in the garden. Gran said, “It’s a bit since that there lartle drawer had a good sort out. We’ll ev a go at it shall wah?” There was alsorts of lovely things in it.
Shiny blue buttons from aunt Hannah’s wedding dress, some pennies from France and a tiny gold safety pin. Gran said I could have one thing before we put them back and I chose the golden safety pin.My friend Nan and I are always having brainwaves, and then we count how many others in the class copy us. We had this brainwave for our hankies, because Nan didn’t know where to put hers either. We pinned them onto the front of our frocks and then they floated down. We looked like actresses, as they floated as we walked.
We couldn’t use them though, it would spoil them if they were dirty. I used Gran’s golden safety pin for mine. When I went home from school, my mother said it looked silly and “It will make a hole in your frock.”
So I put it on when get to the gate at the side of the house, but I have to remember to take it out again before I go home for my tea. One day we all had to keep our hair tidy all day. A man came to take pictures of us. He took a really big one of all the class and then one of us all by ourselves. We got our pictures taken today and we can take them home. I don’t know what to do about mine.
I think, I will just take the one with everybody on, because Ruth is right in front of me and you can see my face. Well that’s alright I kept my face clean except for a crayon mark near my nose, and my hair ribbon has only slipped a bit. But the other picture will get me in trouble for sure. There right in the middle of my front, for everyone to see, is my little golden safety pin, and a BIG FLOATING HANKIE.
Oh my gosh!
What shall I do?
*Southwells Field = as it is a name of a place rather than a statement of ownership it no longer has the appostrophy
*chara = Charabang a name for a typ eof bus used for bus trips.
*Massey Harris band= a kind of rough hairy string much like sisal
*cronies = an old term for friends you hang out with, it infers you are a bit suspect as a kind of joke, but I am unsure of theorigins. Perhaps you know…
shuv a’penny*= knocking an old half penny piece across a board to settle in the best spot – a gambling game no doubt.
astrkn* = I would say this as, astrakahn, and I recall a fur coat of mums which she said was this that I thought was wonderful. Possible cos it had no spikes, it was fur woven into itself so it was lovely to look at and felt very smooth.
*antimassas = antimacassar, as in a protection against stains from macassar oil; a hair treatment made from coconuty and ylang-ylang. Initially they were a practical thing in the previous century but they became a decorative fashionable thing.
*Primitive Methodists – I was also told of Bush Baptists and a terrible place called chapel when mum talked about the old days when I was little. She also recalls seeing Catholics!
Nan* = Nannette still calls upon mum regularly, it is good to see they are still friends, and I understand Nannette continues to work at her cafe on the coast at Scarborough.
I am very proud to be able to republish my mum’s book. She sold thousands in hard copy and will be pleased to see this online version.
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Mum is known throughout the north of England for her presentations , publications and entertainments.
You may also enjoy my children’s story Oski and the Amulet
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